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Archive for Saturday, December 13, 2003

N. Korean nuclear talks delayed despite efforts

December 13, 2003

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— Hopes faded Friday for a quick breakthrough in the North Korean nuclear crisis, with European diplomats saying the North shows no sign of compromise, and South Korea indicating new six-nation talks won't happen until next year.

The developments came amid a flurry of attempts to breathe life into a new round of negotiations aimed at persuading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons programs.

European diplomats, who held three days of talks in Pyongyang, reported that the communist government was not easing up on its earlier preconditions for the talks.

"They cannot possibly dismantle their program until they have all the assurances they need for their security. They see the nuclear weapons option as indispensable for their national security," said Percy Westerlund, director of external relations for the European Commission.

"I didn't detect any particular wavering," he said.

Since the nuclear crisis flared late last year, the United States has tried to rally international support in pressuring North Korea to abandoned its atomic ambitions. But North Korea says it needs a "nuclear deterrent" against possible U.S. attack, and has demanded a nonaggression treaty. Washington has offered a written security guarantee, but says North Korea must first disarm.

For weeks, the United States, China, Russia, Japan and the two Koreas have tried to convene new talks on the dispute before the year's end. But South Korea and Japan began to back off those expectations Friday.

South Korea's Deputy Foreign Minister Lee Soo-hyuck left for Beijing to sound out China for insights on North Korea's position and the feasibility of arranging talks.

South Korea media, meanwhile, reported that next month was a more realistic timeline.

"We have not completely ruled out the possibility of holding the talks this month but it gets increasingly likely that it would be sometime in mid-January," the national Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed government source as saying. YTN, an all-news cable channel, carried a similar report.

In Tokyo, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi agreed, saying "if the talks aren't held this year, they should be held early next year."

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